When asked to participate in Engineers Week by talking to students from a local school about engineering and what I do, I jumped at the opportunity. My father encouraged me to be an engineer and I was involved in the Society of Women Engineers throughout college specifically for their mentorship program. I wanted to raise awareness about engineering among young women (and men). I wanted to open that door to them – introduce them to engineering, what it is, and how they might be able to pursue engineering as a career path.
I did not expect to explain engineering to 52 first-grade students! But, if nothing else, my professional career has taught me to navigate the unexpected. With the help of my friend and Engineers Week teammate, Rachel Schnabel, and the first-grade teachers at Highland Park School in Manchester, CT, including Rachel DeLany (Dan’s wife), we decided to teach the students about the water cycle, which plays an integral role in environmental engineering, through the use of a simple, fun demonstration. After discussing what engineers do, and in very simple terms what environmental engineers like us do, Rachel and I talked about the science behind the water cycle and demonstrated how to make rain clouds in a jar.
Everyone involved had a blast! The students were as attentive to us and our lesson as first graders can be, and many had their own anecdotes about engineering. They were eager to learn, eager to be heard, and eager to make it rain in their jars. Many asked really insightful questions, like how does water get into the air? And what makes lightning in a storm? (These inquisitive students will likely be the next generation of engineers or scientists.) Rachel and I had fun trying to explain engineering and these phenomena by relating them back to experiences they’ve already had: solving problems, humid summer days, and static shock in the wintertime after rubbing your feet on the carpet. And, despite the food coloring involved in our project, we left the students and the classroom only slightly more blue than when we arrived – which I chalk up to a win.
I left Highland Park School reminded that we volunteer in order to impact, even in a small way, the world around us. But more often than not, it is our own lives that are impacted in the process. I learned that first graders have a much better understanding of science than I expected. I developed awe and appreciation for first-grade teachers and the patience and ease they appeared to exercise with their kids. I learned that it’s possible, and really rather easy, to teach first-grade students about engineering and science. The looks in their eyes and the smiles on their faces when they began to understand what we were explaining was hugely rewarding. I left Highland Park School reminded of why I love mentoring students, regardless of their age.
Click here to view the lesson: https://www.ehow.com/13559491/diy-rain-clouds-tutorial
About the Author:
Brianna Church is an environmental engineer in the Environmental Assessment and Remediation group at Fuss & O’Neill. A member of the Environmental Practice Team, she collaborates with staff from several departments on projects involving Phase I site assessments, Phase II and III field investigations, remediation, as well as the analysis and presentation of data in reports and GIS map products.